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Water news you need to know

A collection of top water news from around California and the West compiled each weekday. Send any comments or article submissions to Foundation News & Publications Director Chris Bowman.

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Aquafornia news San José Spotlight

Santa Clara County water agency could start fining the homeless

Those living along the waterways could soon be fined or face jail time, due to a policy being considered by the largest water agency in Santa Clara County.  Valley Water Board of Directors will consider the Water Resources Protection Zones Ordinance on Tuesday. The policy will take effect 30 days after it passes, unless the board votes to change the timeline. If passed, homeless individuals who reside on Valley Water-owned land could be fined up to $500 or face up to 30 days in jail. … Along with prohibiting encampments, the policy also bans trash and pollutants related to encampments, activities that disturb those living nearby and activities that create potential harm for Valley Water employees or the public by those living in encampments. In the  fiscal year ending in 2023, Valley Water’s encampment cleanup crew removed more than 2.7 million pounds of trash, debris, and hazardous pollutants, according to its website.

Aquafornia news San Diego Union-Tribune

San Diego to spend $100M to figure out how to fix its aging, vulnerable dams

San Diego plans to pay an engineering firm $100 million over the next decade to thoroughly evaluate the city’s aging dams and create a strategy to prioritize and coordinate repairs and possible rebuild projects. The strategic plan will include proposals to shore up every dam, including cost estimates and specific timelines. It will also evaluate safety risks and how much each dam upgrade would boost reservoir capacity. … The plan, which city officials call a long-term strategic phasing plan, will also evaluate the accuracy of a loose city estimate that the dams require a total of $1 billion in repairs and upgrades. That $1 billion estimate includes $275 million to build a new replacement for the Hodges Dam about 100 feet downstream from the existing dam. … The city’s greater attention to its dams is part of a statewide trend that began after the near failure in 2017 of Sacramento’s Oroville Dam. San Diego’s dams are among the oldest in the state and the nation, with many nearing or surpassing the end of their useful service lives, officials said.

Aquafornia news SJV Water

Protecting domestic wells a key piece of southern Fresno County groundwater agency’s planning

A million-dollar program to keep residential wells flowing across a swath of southern Fresno and northern Kings counties is getting underway through a program spearheaded by one of the area’s groundwater sustainability agencies. The plan is being funded through land assessments of $6 per acre now, maxing out at $18 per acre in 2027, charged to growers in the North Fork Kings Groundwater Sustainability Agency (GSA). … Though this program will only be available to residents in the North Kings GSA, it is a key piece of the Kings groundwater subbasin’s larger plan to bring the area’s groundwater consumption into compliance with the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA). 

Aquafornia news California WaterBlog

Blog: Restoration of tidal wetlands of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta – Where are we at?

… The California Department of Water Resources is required to restore 8,396 acres of tidal wetlands to offset environmental impacts of the State Water Project, which exports water for municipal and agricultural use. About two thirds of this acreage has been completed, and several more restoration projects built for other programs also completed…  An exciting aspect of these projects is that all of them have some level of environmental monitoring and research going on, ranging from the water quality to the fishes. …So, what have we learned? Well, because tidal wetlands have a rich and complex ecology and because hydrology in California is highly variable, we’re just beginning to understand how restored wetlands are functioning.

Aquafornia news International Water Power & Dam Construction

Historic Klamath River renewal: Copco No. 1 dam deconstruction advances ecological revitalization

The Klamath River Renewal Corporation (KRRC) is proceeding with the removal of the Copco No. 1 Dam, the second of four to be removed as a part of the Klamath dam removal project. Following successful test blasting at the beginning of March 2024, deconstruction is underway of the dam that was constructed in 1918 for the sole purpose of hydroelectric power generation. The dam has blocked fish passage for over 100 years and is expected to be fully removed by the end of August 2024. “We are excited to get to work,” said Mark Bransom, CEO of KRRC. “The dam is fully exposed and can be safely disassembled.”

Aquafornia news Grist

Albuquerque made itself drought-proof. Then a dam started leaking.

… El Vado has been out of commission for the past three summers, its structure bulging and disfigured after decades in operation — and the government doesn’t have a plan to fix it. The failure of the dam has shaken up the water supply for the entire region surrounding Albuquerque, forcing the city and many of the farmers nearby to rely on finite groundwater and threatening an endangered fish species along the river. It’s a surprising twist of fate for a region that in recent years emerged as a model for sustainable water management in the West. … Los Angeles has lost water from both the Colorado River and from a series of reservoirs in Northern California, and Phoenix has seen declines not only from the Colorado but also from the groundwater aquifers that fuel the state’s cotton and alfalfa farming. Now, as Albuquerque’s decrepit El Vado dam goes out of commission, the city is trying to balance multiple fragile resources.

Aquafornia news Cronkite News

Arizona’s drought: How solar farming aids agriculture

For 31 straight days last summer, temperatures in Phoenix hit or topped 110 degrees, the longest such streak ever. That searing Arizona heat dehydrates crops and evaporates water the state needs to conserve. Creating shade is one way to combat the problem. By using solar panels, farmers can simultaneously protect their plants, save water and lower their energy bills – and some are doing just that with help from federal programs designed to encourage this sustainable method of growing. Photovoltaic panels are placed above the crops, harnessing the sun’s energy while providing valuable shade. … Three-fourths of Arizona’s water supply goes to agricultural irrigation, according to the Arizona Department of Water Resources. The Colorado River Basin is in a Tier 1 water shortage, requiring restrictions for agricultural users. As drought continues, farmers are searching for new sustainable methods of growing.

Aquafornia news Newsweek

California drinking water map shows facilities at risk of failing

Water systems located in nearly every single California county are at risk of failing, according to a map created by Newsweek using data from the California State Water Resources Control Board. The board released its annual report in June as municipalities around the nation have considered improving their water-treatment systems to counteract cyberattacks or to meet new requirements from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) about the levels of per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances, known as PFAS, in the water supply. … A map of the at-risk drinking water systems shows that they are impacted throughout the state, with some of the highest concentrations of impacted systems in Tulare, Kern and Los Angeles Counties. The only counties without an at-risk water system were Lassen, Modoc and San Francisco.

Aquafornia news San Francisco Chronicle

Opinion: SF residents: Brace yourselves for skyrocketing water and sewer rates

San Franciscans: Brace yourselves for skyrocketing utility rates. Combined water and sewer bills will increase by 8% annually, tripling over the next 20 years. Hetch Hetchy customers outside of San Francisco will get hit hard, too, and the situation is likely to get much worse. The current rate crisis is the result of decades of deferred maintenance, and the failure to recognize and adapt to changing water use patterns. Over many years, utility revenues were used to subsidize general city services rather than to maintain and upgrade the Hetch Hetchy Water System and wastewater infrastructure. At the same time, per capita water use declined and population growth slowed, reducing revenues. The San Francisco Public Utilities Commission is now playing catch-up on a massive infrastructure backlog.
—written by Peter Drekmeier, policy director for the Tuolumne River Trust and former mayor of Palo Alto

Aquafornia news Pasadena Now

Supply chain woes hamper Pasadena’s Water and Electrical Power services

Pasadena Water and Power is facing supply chain disruptions that could affect critical infrastructure projects and potentially impact service delivery. According to a PWP memorandum, the Municipal Services Committee will discuss these challenges in a meeting scheduled for Tuesday, July 9. … the memorandum said water supply in Pasadena is not immune from these challenges. Critical electrical equipment for operating drinking water wells and booster pump stations is experiencing significant delays, with lead times increasing from 3-4 months to 9-18 months. PWP said disinfectant supplies crucial for treating drinking water have seen price increases of 27% for chlorine gas, posing a major risk of increased purchases of imported MWD water or paying premium market prices for disinfectant. Pipeline and related materials have also been affected, with delivery lead times increasing from 2 to 6 months.

Aquafornia news Good Good Good

California’s next state park is a ‘rewilded’ ranch that also protects communities from floods

On a bright morning in early January near the confluence of the San Joaquin and Tuolumne rivers in Central California, John Cain looks out over a small, curved lake. The trees are mostly bare for winter, but Cain, senior director of conservation of the nonprofit organization River Partners, points out … the wild landscape in front of him is buzzing. … Until a little more than a decade ago, this area was productive farmland … Now it’s set to be California’s next state park after a restoration project spearheaded by River Partners converted the ranch into rewilded riverside habitat. As climate change has doubled the likelihood of flooding in California, and is projected to increase runoff from storms by as much as 200 percent to 400 percent, this restored floodplain is proving to be a promising approach. Not only does the area help buffer downstream communities from flood damage, it also maximizes environmental benefits from high waters. “When we step back from the river, when we give the river more room, flooding actually is a very productive process for the ecosystem,” says Cain. “It recharges groundwater. It filters polluted water. It nourishes riparian forests that support all kinds of wildlife. It’s alive.”

Aquafornia news Noozhawk

New flood zones may affect residents across Santa Barbara County

The Federal Emergency Management Agency has updated its Flood Insurance Rate Map, which is used to identify areas that may require property owners to purchase flood insurance. The maps will be used to determine which parts of the region are at risk of flooding. Before the maps are officially adopted, the County of Santa Barbara is working to inform residents on how the maps affect them. … Even though the maps are not expected to be implemented until 2026, the County of Santa Barbara Flood Control District is holding an open house for residents on July 9.

Aquafornia news Los Angeles Times

Cuyama Valley residents say water fight casts pall over community

The Cuyama Valley north of Santa Barbara is one of the areas of California where groundwater levels have been rapidly dropping, and where water continues to be heavily pumped to irrigate thousands of acres of farmland. Like other regions, the Cuyama Valley has developed a state-mandated plan to address overpumping under California’s groundwater law, the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act. But while that plan is just starting to be implemented, disagreements over addressing the water deficit have led to a bitter legal fight. 

Aquafornia news San Luis Obispo Tribune

Fish die-off reported at Lake San Antonio in Monterey County

A large fish die-off event hit Lake San Antonio on the Fourth of July, according to California Department of Fish and Wildlife biologist Zachary Crum. Biologists are still investigating the incident, but they suspect that extreme heat caused algae to bloom in the lake — consuming most of the oxygen in the water and suffocating the fish. “Algal blooms produce oxygen through photosynthesis during the day when sunlight is available, but algae will consume large amounts of oxygen at night when cellular respiration is occurring in the absence of sunlight,” Crum wrote in an email to The Tribune. “This can lead to lethally low dissolved oxygen levels in reservoirs, which can essentially cause fish to suffocate.”

Aquafornia news

Happy Independence Day from Aquafornia!

Dear Aquafornia readers,

Aquafornia is off the week of the July 4th holiday and the following Monday. But we will return with a full slate of news on Tuesday, July 9.

In the meantime, follow us on Twitter where we post breaking water news, and on Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn, where we post Foundation-related news.

The team at the Water Education Foundation wishes everyone a safe and enjoyable Independence Day!

Aquafornia news Los Angeles Times

Friday Top of the Scroll: California environmental group sues U.S. Forest Service over Arrowhead bottled water operation

A Southern California environmental group is suing the U.S. Forest Service for allowing bottled water company BlueTriton Brands to pipe water out of the San Bernardino National Forest. The nonprofit group Save Our Forest Assn. filed the lawsuit in federal court, arguing the Forest Service violated federal laws by allowing the company to continue piping water from boreholes and water tunnels in the San Bernardino Mountains. The environmental group said the extraction of water, which is bottled and sold as Arrowhead 100% Mountain Spring Water, has dramatically reduced the flow of Strawberry Creek and is causing significant environmental harm. 

Aquafornia news Nature Communications

New study: Storing and managing water for the environment is more efficient than mimicking natural flows

Dams and reservoirs are often needed to provide environmental water and maintain suitable water temperatures for downstream ecosystems. Here, we evaluate if water allocated to the environment, with storage to manage it, might allow environmental water to more reliably meet ecosystem objectives than a proportion of natural flow. We use a priority-based water balance operations model and a reservoir temperature model to evaluate 1) pass-through of a portion of reservoir inflow versus 2) allocating a portion of storage capacity and inflow for downstream flow and stream temperature objectives. We compare trade-offs to other senior and junior priority water demands. In many months, pass-through flows exceed the volumes needed to meet environmental demands. Storage provides the ability to manage release timing to use water efficiently for environmental benefit, with a co-benefit of increasing reservoir storage to protect cold-water at depth in the reservoir.
(The researchers are affiliated with the Public Policy Institute of California, Stanford University, University of North Carolina, University of Essex and Blue Point Conservation Science.)

Related water management articles:

Aquafornia news San Diego Union-Tribune

San Diego County water rates look poised to go up — but not as steeply as feared. That could create its own problems.

Local water bills might not be going up quite as sharply next year as expected. The [San Diego] County Water Authority’s board tentatively shrank a proposed rate hike for wholesale water from 18 percent to 14 percent on Thursday — despite concerns the move could hurt the water authority’s credit rating. An increase in wholesale rates will force nearly every local water agency to pass on the extra costs to its customers, but just how much gets passed on could vary widely. Some agencies buy less wholesale water than others, especially those with groundwater basin storage or other local water supplies. The board delayed a final vote on the proposed 2025 increase to its July 25 meeting, but a coalition led by the city of San Diego had enough support Thursday to reduce the increase to 14 percent. It would be part of a three-year set of rate hikes that would cumulatively raise rates by more than 40 percent when compounded — if the board also follows through on a 16.4 percent increase in 2026 and a 5.7 percent increase in 2027.

Related article:

Aquafornia news Courthouse News Service

Supreme Court decision leaves more than half of water flowing out of rivers vulnerable, study says

Last year, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the 1972 Clean Water Act should only apply to waters that are navigable year-round, and not to ephemeral streams — waterways that are underground for much of the year, until there is significant rainfall. In doing so, the court significantly rolled back federal environmental protections that had been around for half a century. A new study seeks, for the first time, to quantify the volume of water that was affected by last year’s ruling. According to the paper, published Thursday in the journal Science, ephemeral streams are responsible for roughly 55% of all water that comes from regional river systems in the U.S. In other words, more than half of the water flowing in and out of rivers in the U.S. is no longer under the protection of federal law. This newly opened loophole in the Clean Water Act could have massive implications, the study’s authors say. Waterways are, after all, connected, and pollutants from one stream inevitably make their way downstream. … Some states, like California, have their own protections. But many do not, and have relied on federal law, which gives third parties the right to sue for polluting waterways. Much of the enforcement of the Clean Water Act is done by nonprofits like the Waterkeeper Alliance and Riverkeeper suing polluters. Now, it will be left up to the states to regulate ephemeral streams.

Related articles:

Aquafornia news The Guardian

Kids have a right to water in US schools, but does that water make the grade?

Christina Hecht remembers how water made its way into school lunch law because the process was unusually easy. Back in the mid-2000s, a researcher toured school cafeterias in California and wondered, “What are these kids to do if they want a drink of water?” said Hecht, a policy adviser at the University of California’s Nutrition Policy Institute. At the time, 40% of the state’s schools failed to offer free water in their cafeterias. That fact eventually reached the then governor and former bodybuilder Arnold Schwarzenegger, who moved to pass SB 1413 requiring schools to offer free, fresh water during mealtimes. Advocates then used California’s example to convince US senators working on 2010’s Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act (HHFKA) – a federal package setting nutrition standards and food funding for public schools and childcare centers – to add drinking water to that legislation, too. … Yet experts say that 14 years after the passage of the HHFKA, many schools are still falling short of its potable water requirement.